Have you ever forgotten something on your mental shopping list? This is due to our ability to hold only a certain amount of information at a time. Think of your mental notebook as a table - you can only fit so much on the surface of the table before things start to fall off the edge.
Children with learning difficulties such as ADHD, ADD, Dyscalculia or Dyslexia find it even more difficult to use their working memory efficiently. Things that are automated to most of us, such as following a string of three instructions - pick up your book, put it on the 2nd shelf and then bring me your blue folder - may be too much for them to hold in their mental notebook, so they either keep asking or don't do all three things... This can be misinterpreted as bad behaviour, lack of concentration or being disobedient, but they are as frustrated as you are at their inability to carry out the string of instructions.
Why does this happen?
Our working memory is an executive function, helping us to perform everyday tasks like remembering phone numbers, following directions, applying rules for writing and completing maths task (from starting in the units column when we add all the way through to solving equations). All of these require space in our working memory.
We rely heavily on our working memory - it is remembering everything you need to remember while you are doing something. When the working memory becomes overloaded, we forget things, like that elusive item on the shopping list. Our 'cognitive workspace' can especially become overloaded when we are learning lots of new things. Now consider the child with working memory issues. They can't hold all the new information at once and struggle to remember what they need to do, what comes next and the rules for carrying out the task.
Children with Dyslexia, ADHD and Dyscalculia all have a smaller working memory capacity. This is due to them having to adjust to cope with the difficulties that come with their leaning problems. The 'mental notebook space' is already being used up, carrying out simple tasks that come automatically for others. For example, a child with concentration issues needs to work much harder to listen and focus on what is being said, instead of being distracted by the kids outside or the car driving past. This extra 'clutter' on the table is taking up valuable space, leaving less space for new information.
Less working space of the table mean things are more likely to get lost along the way. This is the reason why some children really struggle. Most children hate having to admit that they can't remember things, and therefore put it less effort as it doesn't have a positive outcome for them.
What can be done to help?
There are several things we can do to help children with a weaker working memory:
1) Make sure homework tasks are written down. This means vital instructions are not forgotten.
2) Create routines. This will help on the journey to doing things automatically instead of using working memory space and can be used for anything from morning routine before school to completing homework.
3) Find out what they heard. Ask them to repeat instructions or information so that you can ensure nothing is missed.
4) Provide information or tasks in smaller units. Too much information at once can mean the child with a weaker working memory gets lost easily. Take time, as they may be still processing the first piece of information when you have moved on to the next.
5) Play cards and other games that use visual memory - there are many online games that cards can be turned over to find pairs etc.
6) Make learning multi-sensory. Teaching them to use more than one sense at a time can improve working memory.
7) Make connections to aid remembering. For example, remembering the direction of the letter 'b' by saying 'bat then ball' or remembering times table facts by making up a matching rhyme ( I always teach 7x7 by thinking of 7 as 'line, line - imaging writing a 7. By making a rhyme, the fact can be remembered easily: line, line, line, line - seven sevens forty nine.
If you are interested in looking at na